Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Date archives March 2014

Family / Motherhood

Two

She turned two last week. I barely had a minute to think about it, but a week later, the reality is sinking in that my baby is not the baby anymore. She is a spunky and sweet sassy pants. I suppose you have to develop a unique set of survival skills when you’re the fourth-born, and in this case, sassy is at the top.

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I’ve shared a very close connection with her since she was born, more than my other babies. That’s not to say she’s the favorite, because I don’t have one of those (or I guess I do, but it changes and depends on when you ask me and who has been the best listener that day…just kidding), but we do have a bond that is different.  Special. She’s an explosive bundle of love and tenderness, and has pressed into my bones the grace of God. Before her, I would say I knew about God’s grace for me in a more intellectual way, but now it is palpable. Real to me. Something I’m reminded of every time she throws her arms around my neck and demands a squeeze with her squeaky little voice.

“HUG ME!” she’ll say. It’s not a request. And let me say, they are some fierce hugs.

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Some tidbits about her that I love:

She chooses books over every other toy or activity option. If no one will read to her on the spot, she will sit by herself and study the pages one by one for an extraordinarily long time.

She is currently obsessed with Frozen, the movie, and sings “Let It Go” in broken toddler-speak, but with all the commitment and drama of a real broadway star. It’s hilarious.

We have a home office where Daddy is set up to get work done whenever he has a work-from-home day. We have to keep the door shut so that his business calls are not interrupted, but if he’s been in there too long, she gets a bee in her bonnet about getting to Daddy. Remember, he is ‘in’ the office, but she’ll pound on his door over and over and yell, “Let me out! LET ME OUT!!” It’s especially funny when he’s actually on a phone call.

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She’s a sweet girl, and I’m thankful every day that I get to be her mama. Happy Birthday, little one. May you always be as exuberant and full of life as you are now.

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Family / Life & Faith / Motherhood

Bedtime Prayers

A soft corner light illuminates the room. An assortment of laundry, both dirty and clean, decorates the perimeter. I marvel at her perfectly formed body and the sweet spirit she wears, even at just a few weeks old. Peaceful. Content. I’m thankful. For so much, but mostly that she is healthy and here with us.

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I talk to her like she understands every word I say, unintentionally shifting into that soft, blubbering mommy voice that only babies draw out of me. My heart and body feel tender, but in the best way. Strength spent on a taxing, but exceedingly worthwhile purpose. I think about a newborn’s daily responsibilities — to rest in the arms of the one who loves them and to take in the nourishment they need to grow the heart, mind, and body. An investment now for a return to come. Unseen potential. Undiscovered beauty.

How much I can learn from the simplicity and surrender of a newborn. I need nourishment just as desperately, but I struggle to seek it with such focus. Not what nourishes the body, but the Words that nourish the soul. Breathing life and hope into the space where weariness has taken up residence.

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I’ve already prayed a hundred thousand prayers for her in the quiet of my heart, both before and after her birth, but there is power in words spoken aloud…power in prayer and belief that God is good and He hears the cries of a mother’s heart and will answer. Has answered. So I say aloud a bedtime prayer to Jesus into her ear for the first time instead of thinking it in my mind. A prayer of thanks for this wonderful gift. A request for health and strength as her little body grows.  A prayer for seeds of wisdom to be planted in her heart before she has awareness of what that even is, so her wisdom might grow with her. For her to hear and know truth in her innermost being. And a plea for her to always know how much she is loved. So very much.

Children are indeed a gift from the Lord, but not only a gift of joy, but a gift of deeper riches that are easily missed if we are too busy, too proud, or too self-centered to take notice. I consider myself a student…learning all the time how to be more like a child. To worry less, trust more. To revel in simple joys. To be thankful for sun on my face or puddles underfoot. And to take the time to smell the flowers (or the newborn baby’s hair) as often as I can.

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Photos taken at 2.5 and 3.5 weeks, respectively.

 

Family / Motherhood

Spring

New buds and blossoms are appearing on the trees. Like the trees, we are in a whole new season. I am learning that if life was exciting and colorful with four kids, it’s going to be even more so with five. I’m beyond thankful for a healthy baby, and the sweet and thoughtful ways friends have served us in recent weeks. Everyone is adjusting very well, but that is not to say I haven’t had a dose of reality this week — the realization that there is no way I can do this mother-of-five thing on my own. There have been a few bumpy days, but I’m trying to be gracious with myself as I learn how to navigate the new waters.

Today (3/21) is my birthday, and my birthday wish was to take our family photo this week in front of a blossoming tree. The awesome husband made it happen. I love that guy.

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One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 12/52

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Family / Life & Faith

Weakness

I was in the mud. The metaphorical mud. The lowest place. Fresh out of high school and a fractured family situation, I chose Seattle Pacific University because I knew that I somehow needed to stay connected to my northwest roots, but I also needed to be in a totally new place…somewhere I could maybe spread wings into new skies and find healing for my emotional wounds.

She was the first person I met in Seattle. You would never know we had just met as the school year began, the way we were quickly ‘attached at the hip’ as they say. She shared my passion for Jesus and music, and in the first few weeks of classes, it was clear that I had made a true Anne-of-Green-Gables-bosom-friend.

In that season, I felt like a lump of nothing good. I was grieving my broken family in my own way, retreating into a reflective, desperate space, begging God to give me some hope that life could ever be really sweet. Healthy. Whole. I didn’t think it ever would be, but I sobbed out my prayers for hope anyway. She didn’t understand my brokenness at all, but she held me up. Prayed for me. Sat with me in the mud for several months while I cried and cried, and has stood by me in the years since as I have sorted out what it looks like to surrender to God’s plans for me at each new fork in the road.

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One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 11/52

Sometime in our first weeks at school, she invited me to come home with her one weekend to meet her family. They completely enveloped me. I was initially overwhelmed by the size of their family, and the size of their love; six children in total, each with unique and lovely personalities, and a family dynamic that astounded me. Laughter, love, light-heartedness. At that time, I didn’t plan to have children, but if I did, that’s what I wanted my home to feel like. The thought of a having a home like that made me cry even more. I didn’t think that would ever be in the cards for me. How funny life is.

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We have developed a cherished friendship that has endured many seasons. College. Marriage. Long-distance moves. Bumps and bruises and hard lessons. The arrival of (many) children. It’s a bit comical that we are both celebrating 9th wedding anniversaries this summer and have a combined 10 children between our two young families. I promise we are not competing. Knowing her and her extended family planted seeds in my heart years ago that are coming to fruition in my life now in beautiful and unexpected ways. She has taught me many things over the years, but it started with holding on to hope that the dark seasons do not last forever, and the discovery that in God’s upside-down kingdom, being humbled and acknowledging our weakness can bring about unexpected blessing. I am myself, a living testimony of how God restores, heals, strengthens, and establishes those who seek Him, and I truly have a debt of gratitude for this friendship in particular that carried me through some of my darkest days.

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She continues to sharpen me. Inspire and encourage me. Support and uplift me. A rare and beautiful gem she is.

This past week, we had the opportunity to hang out with this silly bunch, and while they’re not related by blood, they certainly are part of our hearts and part our family in a special way. Thus, they have earned an honorary place in our family photo for the week.

2 Cor. 12:9  He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Family / Life & Faith

Together

“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven.” – Henry Ward Beecher

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One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 10/52

I really couldn’t imagine a sweeter life. I’m challenged, stretched, and rarely comfortable, but these faces make every bit of it worthwhile. The quote above is one that rings true for me. I have experienced more joy and goodness through my children than I can ever put into words, although, I will keep trying to in the years to come. I’m thankful. So very thankful.

This week, the only way we could get #4 to smile for this photo was to put #5 in her lap. I guess you could say she really likes her new baby sister!

Life & Faith / Motherhood

Opportunities

I stood at the checkout line in Costco, my seven-months pregnant belly bumping up against the counter and my four children scattered about ‘helping’ the checker and cart-packer. We’re always a spectacle at Costco. Most people just smile uncomfortably as we pass them in the aisles, if our eyes happen to meet. Others make what I try to assume are well-meaning remarks and exclamations that don’t always come out politely. I don’t really mind. I’ve learned to worry less and less about what people think about me over the years, especially as my family has grown. Motherhood has enough worries of its own to care about what complete strangers think of the size of my family.

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Behind us in line, there was a young couple with a baby snuggled up to dad in an Ergo-carrier. The baby was probably 8-9 months old. I knew they were watching us, but my attention was split between the checker and all the commotion of my kids. Preoccupied by managing little hands and feet while finishing up our transaction, I could barely register the words when the young mom sheepishly tapped me on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” she said quietly. “Do you have a secret?” she finished as she gestured around to my kids and looked at me with a pleading look. The kids had all been bustling around the register but more-or-less behaving themselves, the cart was being re-filled, and it probably did look like a relatively smooth process to an outsider.

“Ummmm…I…uh…” I stammered as I once again accounted for one, three, four children, and fumbled for my debit card in my purse as the last items passed by in front of me.

“I…I….think…it…gets….easier when they get older?” I said, almost as a question, feeling immediately lame about my answer and yet, unable to focus my attention for long enough to change it. Our transaction was through, smiled awkwardly at the woman, and herded the parade around the full cart toward the exit.

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Once I was at the door, I realized how poorly I responded to this dear woman’s honest question. I could feel her thoughts unfold in my mind, ‘How can this pregnant woman with four children seem do be doing so well at Costco, or in life, when I have only one child and feel like I’m drowning in the hardships of early motherhood?’

We rounded the corner to the parking lot and I held up the parade.

“Hey kids, lets just hang out here for a minute.”

Since they had been in line right behind us, I knew they would be coming out the door soon, and I couldn’t stop myself from trying to reclaim a nearly-missed opportunity to be completely real with this young mom.

The couple emerged with their purchases, and I waved them down. The woman looked confused for a moment, but came nearer anyway, and gave me a quizzical look.

I started off a little timidly.

“I’m sorry about my lame response to your honest question. I was scattered, and I couldn’t find the words on the spot.”

She nodded and stepped in to listen more intently.

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“I don’t know exactly why you asked that question, but I would guess that maybe you have bumped up against some unexpected challenges in caring for your baby and can’t picture how you would be able to survive caring for more children when you feel so overwhelmed with just one,” I said.

She nodded again and her eyes started to fill up with tears.

“The earliest years are the hardest, I think. There is so much that changes when you go from having your life all to yourself to the reality and responsibility of caring for a baby every minute of the day. Motherhood is really hard whether you have one child or four children. It’s not necessarily easier for the mom who has fewer children, or harder for the mom who has more. But every season you go through, you learn more about yourself and what your baby needs from you. You learn a new language of loving sacrificially, you find solutions to the problems you bump into and gain confidence as you have successes in parenting. Right now you may feel overwhelmed, but within time, you’ll be able to see how your baby grows and thrives because of your love and every little task you do. You learn how to be gracious with yourself, and let some of your worries go. God gives you what you need to weather each season as it comes.”

I pause because I realize I’m getting to be long-winded. She has tears streaming down her face like I’ve totally dialed her number.

She had no idea that for the previous week, I had been exhausted and irritable thanks to the demands of my fifth pregnancy, and was repeatedly short-tempered with my kids. My own plea for the week was to be patient and kind to them, and I felt like I had failed miserably at it.

She looked at me with genuine esteem in her eyes and said, “Well, I can tell that you are extremely gracious with your children, and I hope that I can be like that with mine.”

My throat tightened and tears found my eyes, and I confessed that I strive to be gracious, but I’m definitely not always successful.

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We hugged like friends, and departed ways, both of us with a wind of encouragement from a brief exchange of words. My only regret was that I didn’t ask her name or for some way to connect again, but I’m thankful for the encounter we had that day, and for the reminder that sometimes it is important to stop what I’m doing and pay attention to the opportunities I have to encourage someone else, even if I feel like I’m the one who needs encouragement.

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Our little miss is exactly one week old in these photos. This post is part of “Not So Small Stories” with Kirsten Oliphant. Click on the button below if you are interested in reading thoughts from other bloggers on this week’s theme: “Speech. Language. Words.”

 

I STILL HATE PICKLES

Family / Life & Faith / Motherhood

Day Two with Baby

It’s been a beautiful few days. Sleep is obviously going to be the trickiest part of the puzzle in the coming weeks, but even two days beyond the birth, and I’m regaining strength and feeling good overall. The family is all adjusting well to the upset routine of things, and the husband I’ve always known to be great has stepped up even more than ever to love the rest of us well — making sure I eat and rest, spending time with the kids, keeping the kitchen going and clean, and being an all-around Super Dad. I love the guy with all my heart as it is, but there is something truly attractive about a strong, burly man serving his wife and family in the most humbling ways. I don’t mean to brag, but I can’t help but gush my gratitude for him. Thanks babe.

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I’ve been so overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and encouragement coming in from friends and family over our new addition. People are asking me what they can do to help and support us during this time. Truthfully, I feel upheld in prayer, at peace with our current challenges, and optimistic that we will get through the next few weeks with relatively few bumps. I guess we’ll see!

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We welcome visitors as long as those visitors are healthy and not at risk for exposing us to illness. We are open to meals, although, I’m really more interested in meaningful visits with friends (with or without food) than anything else. If there is a time you would like to stop in, don’t hesitate to call or email me. I promise I will be honest if a particular day or time isn’t good for us, but we really are looking forward to quality time with people we care about and for the opportunity to share our little bundle.

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This week we did a simple photo at home of the 7 of us together. The other photos in this post were also taken in the same hour of this sweet baby, at 2 days old. I love wide-awake newborn photos — seeing straight into those brand new eyes that are taking in the strange world around. It feel like an intimate look into the personality that will unfold as the months go by.

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One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 9/52

Thanks again for following our journey and for the enthusiasm surrounding our daughter’s birth. Be in touch if you would like to visit. Many thanks!

Family / Life & Faith / Motherhood

Wonder

The experience is real and surreal in the same moment. Physically strenuous–as in the hardest thing I’ve ever done…five times…and a spiritually provocative journey. There are layers and nuances and details about this particular pregnancy and birth that I hope to relay in words sometime, but at the moment, I’m finding it a challenge to grab hold of words that could describe what I feel. 

Here is our new tiny person, woven in the womb by the Spirit of God, born of love and delivered through pain into breathing existence. I am broken and spilled out, but somehow full and whole also. Truly thankful for this blessing and filled with wonder at the beauty of life…the beauty of this family of mine.

Welcoming her was a wild ride. I didn’t expect any different as my previous births have been precipitous and incredibly intense. We ate dinner as a family last night around 5:30, and by the time I finished my food, I was ready to check out of all other activities around the house. I wasn’t having particularly regular or intense contractions, but somehow my body knew what was about to unfold.

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I closed the door to my room and lay in my bed in the dark for a few minutes, giving thanks to God for my beautiful life and asking Him to be near to me. He truly was. Not ten minutes later (around 6pm), my water broke suddenly and I knew we were on the way to meeting our little girl. Knowing my labor history, this time around we planned a home birth, feeling much better about help coming to us instead of trying to arrange care for our other kids and transporting ourselves to a hospital all on short notice. Surely, I would have delivered in the car. In previous pregnancies, I have had nightmares about being in random public places, blindsided by labor and giving birth with my other kids around and no one else to help. Those dreams are one reason I just had to do things differently this time and not birth at a hospital.

I called my midwife and she came quick, fully aware that time was of the essence. A friend came by to be with our kids upstairs (she had actually already planned to be around here last evening already and serendipitously arrived within a few minutes of my water breaking…impressive timing). My husband started a movie for the kids to be occupied while we were taking care of baby business…and funny enough, the movie didn’t end until after baby had been delivered.

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The pain was as fierce and full as could be, but I experienced such peace at the same time…a supernatural strength and confidence that I would not actually die during labor (which is honestly how I have felt during my other unmedicated births). I always try to give myself to the pain of contractions instead of bracing against them, knowing that each one brings us closer to the fulfillment of the great joy of meeting our child. It quickly went from tolerable to impossible for about an hour…contractions so close there was barely a breath in between, and power outside my control pressing down and expelling out all that my body has nurtured for the past months. Truthfully, it was so hard. And yet, so worth it.

Some people think a short labor means an easy labor, but that’s just not how it is. Sure, I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had…I can’t even image what it would be like to be in labor for longer than 4 hours (please don’t hate me)…but I also just can’t accept when someone thinks that a short labor is ‘easy’. There is not one easy thing about it, let me say. Anyhow, just 90 minutes after my water broke, here came this sweet darling girl, who curled up on my chest contentedly while I bawled my eyes out from relief and wonder.

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Everyone in the house is tickled pink to have a new baby sister. We have had a good first day together as a family of 7, and will be resting up through the weekend. Each of the kids are very eager to have their turns holding the baby, as you’ll see in the following photos. There is no shortage of love.

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The last two photos are my favorite…The first is with the newest ‘big sister’ having her turn holding the baby. The second is when that big sister had to share with the next person. What a character. Thank you everyone who has encouraged us and helped this week…more than ever, I’m convinced I have the most amazing friends around, and adding that to this sweet family of mine, I’m feeling like one incredibly blessed woman. I could not be more thankful for all of you. Thanks for celebrating this new life with us!

Born 2/27/14, 8lbs 7oz, 21in long

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